Reporter with Silicon Hills News
For most people the concept of the “corner drugstore,” with or without a soda fountain, is a quaint anachronism befitting the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life,” but not modern society.
In fact, though, there are more than 22,000 small, independently owned pharmacies in the U.S. Some will still make you a Black Cow. Many will mix up your medications right on site without the gluten, lactose or other binders that make some patients sick. RxWiki was launched to help those little pharmacies.
RxWiki is essentially a digital marketing company for independent pharmacies. The company’s website offers a “medication encyclopedia” written by pharmacists, news updates around medical issues and medications, and encyclopedic content around medical conditions, similar to a WebMD site. It has more than 20,000 original articles, 7,500 health-related videos, 100 disease condition channels and co-pay assistance programs. More than 5,000 community based pharmacies use its content.
But its primary function is to create websites, mobile apps—including medication reminders–and handle social media and content for the independent pharmacies who fill a niche among the big boxes. RxWiki runs a software as a service platform that supports 1,300 specialty and community websites, mobile applications and newsletters.
RxWiki raised $5.75 million in funding last October from investors including LiveOak Venture Partners and Milestone Venture Partners LP. The company hired Chris Loughlin as its CEO last February.
Today, most medications are pretty standardized—coming in doses of a specific number of milligrams–and don’t serve people who might require a higher or lower dose, Loughlin said. Nor do many pharmacies offer compounding services in which pharmacists will create medicines without ingredients patients don’t tolerate well. While many people may never meet their pharmacist, independent pharmacists strive to play a role in patients’ medical care, ensuring they’re getting their medication and following doctors’ orders.
As “designer drugs” become more popular and we learn more about our individual bodies’ reactions to medications, the role of such specialty pharmacies might increase dramatically.
But today, it’s tough to compete when small pharmacies can’t be open 24/7 like a lot of big chains. RxWiki tries to level the field through mobile apps where patients can order refills at any time. A new feature of the app is to set up reminders at the appropriate times to take medications purchased through the pharmacy.
The Corner Drugstore Goes Digital
Austin’s MedSavers is one of these specialty pharmacies. Owner/pharmacist Chris Johnson says he may be the only one left with his business model. He doesn’t take insurance; but he does claim to have much lower prices than his competitors. Johnson had worked for the big boxes for years and was frustrated with the prices they were forced, by agreements with insurance companies, to charge for medications. One of the worst he remembers was an anti-nausea medication for chemotherapy patients that cost only $20-$30 for a bottle but he was supposed to charge closer to $1,000. So he launched his own, independent pharmacy. He only wanted a website, but RxWiki offered a lot of other services for little or no extra charge. That was a deal he didn’t want to pass up.
CEO Loughlin knows all about supporting independent businesses in a world of giants. The co-founder of Weekends.com, an internet travel company, his business was purchased by Travelzoo in 2001. Loughlin worked his way up, eventually serving as Travelzoo CEO from 2010 to 2015. Because of his background he could look at the problem with “different eyes.” For example, while many pharmacies were getting apps, few of their customers were downloading the apps. It just never occurred to them. So Loughlin, thinking of the buttons worn by airline staff, suggested pharmacists and sales associates wear buttons to remind customers to download the app.
The added technology is meant to augment, not replace, service in the independent pharmacies, he said. For example, RxWiki might offer a quiz on a particular condition and discover that patients who have that condition actually know very little about it. That can allow RxWiki to share more information about the condition and alert the pharmacist that their patient doesn’t really understand their medical condition, so the pharmacist can take proactive steps to help.
In Remington, Virginia, population 615, pharmacist and co-owner of Remington Drug Al Roberts knows his customers pretty well. The pharmacy, which has been there since 1913, is the place to go when you want to know what’s happening in Remington. But it’s also a bedroom community for Washington, D.C. and a lot of residents work in the city. They don’t make it in to order refills when the pharmacy is open. Having RxWiki has helped a lot of customers connect with the pharmacy, Roberts said.
“We had customers who went to different pharmacies because, they would tell us ‘I forget to call you when you’re open.’ They don’t have to remember now.” The store receives faxes at all hours of the night coming in from people’s apps. “It removes one more blockade from the patient to us.”
Of course, he said, he also gives people his cell number so they can call if they’d rather do that.
“I tell them ‘I’m available to you 24/7.”